Study calls for improved aluminum beverage can recycling

Europe needs to take specific measures to formalise the informal recycling of aluminum beverage cans, according to a study by Boku University.

The study was carried out by the Vienna based institute of waste management at Boku University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences. Considerable amounts of used beverage cans are collected by waste pickers, particularly in South Eastern European countries like Romania, Greece and Hungary. The study estimates that each individual informal collector amasses an average of 1.6kg of used beverage cans per day.

Raphael Thevenin, chair of European Aluminium’s Packaging Group, says, “Formally counting cans that are already collected informally is an easy way to boost official recycling rates. Not only that, but it will more accurately reflect the true recycling practices of each country.”

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) collection schemes continue to play an important role in formalising the informal. EPR schemes are particularly effective when suited to the unique needs of the countries where they operate. According to the study, existing schemes can nevertheless be improved though better designed bins which can help combat the theft of valuable aluminium packaging scrap.

To boost the formal collection of beverage cans, the aluminium industry can also partner with recognised scrap dealers, provided that they respect scrap prices and conduct business transparently with local collectors. A major hurdle to the collection of scrap is the strict ID control of individual collectors who simply wish to earn a small income. The study found that relaxing administrative requirements would encourage local waste pickers to bring back a few cans on a voluntary basis.

Thevenin adds, “The European aluminium industry is committed to recycling. As a permanent material, aluminium is a key contributor to the circular economy. But as this study shows, additional investment and effort is needed to ensure valuable scrap like aluminium beverage cans stay in the official recycling loop.”

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